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Jimmy Butler Charges Bulls Past Bucks in Game 2

For those in need of a reminder, Jimmy Butler, not Pau Gasol, not Joakim Noah, and no, not even Derrick Rose, has been the Bulls’ best player this season. Butler proved that, and then some, in the Bulls’ 91-82 Game 2 victory over the Bucks on Monday.

Chicago stunk on offense for most of the night against an aggressive, active Milwaukee defense. The Bulls scored 11 points in the first quarter and didn’t even make a fourth of their shots in the frame. The Bulls needed someone to turn to, especially with Rose shooting 0-for-7 in the first half. Butler provided that offensive spark without taking anything away from his lockdown defense. The Bucks can blame O.J. Mayo, who got in a heated altercation with Butler in the second quarter, for getting the All-Star guard going. And when Butler got it going, he really caught fire.

Butler almost single-handledy led Chicago to a Game 2 win with 14 of his game-high 31 points (also a new postseason career high) coming in the fourth quarter. With the Bulls trailing 74-71 with nine minutes left in the game, Butler went on to score 14 of Chicago’s next 17 points, highlighted by this sick two-handed poster of Zaza Pachulia after leaving Khris Middleton in the dust:

Later, Butler iced the game with a swaggy, “I’m feeling it” three-pointer in Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s face:

Superstar shot by a superstar player. He has been playing like one all season.

Butler’s nearly seven points per game increase in scoring this season can partially be attributed to his usage rate (up 4.5 percent), but the main reason for his Most Improved Player candidacy has been his new and improved stroke.

Butler is a monster at cutting and finishing at the rim, but he’s also a vastly underrated shooter. Yes, that Jimmy Butler, who failed to shoot 4o percent from the floor and 30 percent from downtown last season. Butler scored 1.16 points per possession in spot-up situations this season, according to Synergy, tied for 16th in the league with Kyrie Irving and ranking in the 89th percentile. (min. 60 GP and 150 spot-up FGA’s) That’s ridiculous considering how poorly Butler shot last year. He has noticeably added more lift to his jumper (not having a toe injury helps) while improving his shot selection.

Butler also ranked fifth in the league in shooting foul frequency in spot-up situations at 9.5 percent. (Interesting enough, Chicago teammate Nikola Mirotic ranked third). This isn’t surprising since Butler is a foul magnet, drawing free throws on 19.6 percent of his possessions, tops in the league among guards and wing players this season, per Synergy. Yes, even over free throw line dweller James Harden.

Butler’s underrated ball handling skills and variety of pump fakes have forced defenders to foul him all season. Though his defense hasn’t been as stellar as usual this season (0.21 DRPM), Butler always has the task of defending the opposing team’s best wing player on a night-to-night basis while heavily increasing his offensive load. Butler’s still a pest defensively; just ask Middleton:

Butler put his full repertoire on display for the Bucks on Monday, and it was a sight to behold.

Butler’s three three-pointers and 14 free throw attempts (granted, with an uncharacteristic six misses) thwarted what was a tremendous defensive effort by Middleton (22 points) and Co. The Bucks masterfully game planned for Rose this time around (0 first half points) and continued their stellar D on Gasol (4-for-12 shooting), but Milwaukee couldn’t do anything about the Bulls’ best player. Jimmy made ’em pay, and Chicago leads the series 2-0 because of it.

It’s a matter of time before the Bulls pay Butler, too.

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